Hazard solving slump mystery key to Chelsea recovering form
ABS-CBN Sports on Nov 24, 2015 11:46 AM
Chelsea's Eden Hazard runs with the ball during the Champions League Group G soccer match between Chelsea and Dynamo Kiev at Stamford Bridge Stadium in London, Wednesday, Nov. 4, 2015. (AP Photo/Tim Ireland)
AP Sports Writer
LONDON (AP) — If one player epitomizes Chelsea's slump it's surely Eden Hazard.
The playmaker was feted as the Premier League's finest talent as last season ended with Chelsea winning the title and England's top two individual awards were presented to the 24-year-old Belgian.
As Chelsea has struggled since August — starting its title defense by collecting 14 points from a possible 39 and sitting second in Champions League Group G — so has Hazard.
"I didn't start the season well. I tried to find out why, but I don't know," Hazard said ahead of Tuesday's match at Maccabi Tel Aviv.
"Sometimes you don't know. You have to keep going. I gave everything in training, on the pitch when I played. I hope I can get a lot of form and try to help the team win games."
Chelsea, which can qualify for the knockout phase with victory in Israel if leader Porto beats Dynamo Kiev, ended a run of three league losses on Saturday by beating Norwich 1-0.
Hazard thrived in a central role playing behind Diego Costa rather than being on the left flank — the result of a conversation with under-pressure manager Jose Mourinho.
"I said to him, 'Maybe we have to try to change something. If I can play number 10?" Hazard recalled.
At a time when Chelsea is struggling to score, Hazard's only goals this season have come while on international duty with four for Belgium.
Hazard accrued 19 goals for Chelsea in winning the player of the year awards for 2014-15. Far from that being a launch-pad to try to challenge Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo for elite global status, Hazard's career has stalled.
Mourinho isn't being blamed for his or Chelsea's loss in form.
"I don't have a problem with him," Hazard said. "He is the best manager. He is the best manager for Chelsea and we hope we can win a lot of trophies together. Maybe not this season because it will be difficult, but next season and on."
Tuesday's game is taking place in Haifa's Sammy Ofer Stadium, north of Tel Aviv, because it has a bigger capacity which is more suitable for European fixtures.
Chelsea is three points behind leader Porto and two ahead of Kiev.
"We are very disappointed with the bad results we had for a significant period of time and we need to keep getting results for our happiness, for our pride," Mourinho said Monday in Haifa. "Tomorrow is simple. If we lose, we are in trouble. If we lose we depend on other results.
"If we get a draw we can qualify in the last game, but we cannot be first. If we win, maybe we qualify tomorrow and we have a big chance to finish first. The result tomorrow is very important for us."
Here are some other talking points ahead of Tuesday's games in Group G:
Top of the Israeli league but bottom in Europe, the Tel Aviv side can still qualify for the Europa League by finishing third in Group G — just. But it is yet to collect a single point and sits five behind Dynamo Kiev with two games remaining. Domestically, Maccabi is thriving at least: winning six of its last seven league games.
BUENO PUSHES FOR A PLACE
With Porto winning eight in nine in the league, Alberto Bueno is being kept out of the team.
The Spanish striker arrived at the Portuguese club in the summer transfer window from Rayo Vallecano, where he excelled with 17 goals last season. But Porto's solid run and the top form of Vincent Aboubakar and Yacime Brahimi in Porto's attack has shut Bueno out of the main competitions so far.
Only when coach Julen Lopetegui made six changes to his usual team for the Portuguese Cup game against lowly Angrense did Bueno open his account for Porto: scoring both goals in a 2-0 win.
"FC Porto has a great team and we have to wait for our chance," the 27-year-old Bueno said. "I'm happy but I want to play more."
He'll be hoping that comes against Dynamo Kiev when a place in the round of 16 can be secured by Porto, which leads Chelsea by three points.
DYNAMO AWAITS FATE
Not only could Dynamo's qualifying hopes be ended by a loss in Portugal, but the club also faces a heavy UEFA punishment.
UEFA is expected to rule imminently on racists attacks which marred Dynamo's 0-0 draw at home to Chelsea last month. Possible punishments include playing home European games in an empty stadium or a points deduction.
On the field, things are better for Dynamo, which has won its last three Ukrainian league games without conceding a single goal.